Visiting Day, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James E. Ransome.
Puffin Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile: AD1150L . ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 3.6 (worth 0.5 points) .
An unnamed little girl describes her favorite day of the month, when she and her grandmother visit her father in prison.
If you had to visit a prison, it probably wouldn’t be your favorite day. But what if your very favorite person was in prison? What if your Daddy that you loved more than anyone in the world was a person you only got to see once a month? For this little girl and her grandmother, Visiting Day is a celebration that causes them to wake up with a smile, and sadness only comes when they get off the bus home, alone without Daddy.
This book is full of vivid imagery that engages all the senses as grandma passes peppermints and kisses. Teeth are brushed and hair done in preparation for the visit. Woodson’s writing is, as always, lyrical and beautiful. Although it’s not presented as poetry, this book would also make a wonderful poem.
Ransome also does a wonderful job on the illustrations. His signature painting style is perfect for this story because it adds weight and heft without creating a dark mood. The pictures are kept simple enough for a very young child to understand, but they aren’t childish as the paint gives even the primary colored backgrounds some variation. I also loved his illustrations of the character’s faces. I’m not sure what his methodology was for this particular book, but they are so detailed and true to life that I felt like they were real people and wonder if he worked from photographs or just imagined the characters.
The barbed wire of the prison is shown and a guard standing by, but the book is kept non-scary for even the littlest of readers. Daddy wears tan prison clothes rather than orange or outdated stripes, and the bars of the prison are never present. Contact is permitted at this visit, so she is able to hug her daddy and sit on his lap. I felt like this book could be read to young children even down to toddlers who may be experiencing prison visits. For general groups I’d put this at the early elementary level.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable reading this book aloud, I would highly encourage teachers and librarians to include this in their collections. After all, you never know what child may be visiting a relative in prison.
Although this book does not deal specifically with the foster care system, I’ve tagged it with fostering anyway since the girl is in out of home care (living with her grandmother) and since some foster children have visits with parents inside a prison.
There was such a need for this first person story, that any decent version of it would have been useful. But instead, Woodson and Ransome give us a first-class story, told with empathy and sensitivity. The author and illustrator notes on the last page are a must read for adults and may bring some comfort to older children.
That’s the power of #ownvoices. Both Woodson and Ransome experienced visits to prison which directly impacted their telling of this story.
I’ve often stated that the very best picture books are ones where the pictures tell a story, the words tell a story, and both also work together. The book does so. The poem and paintings could each stand alone, but they come together smoothly to make this an excellent picture book. I highly recommend this book.